21st July 2020
One topic I really wanted to address was how masking affects my everyday life. The term masking pretty much explains itself. It’s a technique many autistic people (girls more so than boys) use in order to fit in. There have been studies which show how the female diagnosis rates are a lot lower than boys, and women are often diagnosed at a much later date in their lives than boys. When speaking to the National Autitistic Society, they explained how boys are often diagnsed in primary school years whilst girls are diagnosed later in life. They are more likely to show their autistic traits in their teenage years. When looking back over my experineces I remembered that my anxiety started when I was about 14, so it started to make sense. One of the main reasons why girls are diagnosed later than boys is to do with masking. Recent studies have shown that girls with autism tend to mask more, meaning they slip under the radar. In my experince masking is a constant activity that I do subconciously. One example of my masking is hiding my anxiety in social situations and not speaking up if I feel uncomfortable. I remember one evening when me and some friends were going out for the evening. We decided to go out for a meal but the restaurant we usually went to was closed. We decided on another place to eat, which in itself was uncomfortable, as changing plans last minute stresses me out. This is mostly because before I do something I like to visualise how the activity will go. If plans change then I haven’t prepared or had enough time to process and visualise myself doing something new. This was, and still is, a nightmare for my family. Anyway, we had chosen the restaurant we wanted and whilst lining up in the queue I was a bit anxious. I turned to my friend of 3 or so years and told him that I hate restaurants. He was fairly shocked and told me he thought I was fine with them, since we went to eat out quite often. This is all down to masking. I had managed to hide my anxiety about eating out from my freinds who I had known for around 3 years. So if I’m masking around my friends who I feel comfortable with, then imagine what it’s like when I meet strangers.
One thing that is common for autistic people to do when masking is copying social queues. Acting ‘normal’ in social situations is something that I have learnt how to do through observing other people and copying their actions and reactions. This is something I do less once I feel comfortable around people. When this happens I, funnily enough, go the opposite way. Around my friends I often have no filter and end up saying outraegous things, but they know me well enough to understand. But when I first meet people I tend to stay quiet in fear of saying the wrong thing or making a bad impression, which is also partly just my shy personality.
All this masking takes a lot of energy out of me and can lead to a meltdown. Quite often, if I have too much going on in one weekend, I will become quite stressed by the end of it, so I like to give myself cooling off periods after social gatherings. These periods have got shorter over time as I have learned to cope more and more. Opening up about these issues has also meant I have to mask less and less but it is still something I do constantly, especially if I am about to have a meltdown. I only ever have outwardly, manic meltdowns in my own home, away from people, for fear or judgement and embarrassment.
Masking is something that is entirely draining and makes everyday life tiring. It often leads to bouts of anxiety and depression. But opening up about these things, although it goes against every instinct I have, will make it easier in future to not have to feel the need to mask so much. Writing this blog is a hard thing for me and every cell in my brain is telling me not to, but the only way to spread awareness and understanding is to share these things. Hopefully all this content will make me a little easier to understand 🙂